Obrázky stránek

-Certainly, to our conceptions, such objects must be truly engaging :-and the reason of so exalted an encomium from this hand is easily to be guessed: no doubt, the wisest of the heathen philosophers had found, from observation upon the life of man, that the many troubles and infirmities of his nature, the sicknesses, disappointments, sorrows for the loss of children or property, with the numberless other calamities and cross accidents to which the life of man is subject, were in themselves so great ;-and so little solid comfort to be administered from the mere refinements of philosophy in such emergencies, that there was no virtue which required greater efforts, or which was found so difficult to be achieved upon moral principles,-upon moral principles, which had no foundation to sustain this great weight which the infirmities of our nature laid upon it :-and, for this reason, 'tis observable, that there is no subject, upon which the moral writers of antiquity have exhausted so much of their eloquence, or where they have spent such time and pains, as in this of endeavouring to reconcile men to these evils ; insomuch, that from thence, in most modern languages, the patient enduring of affliction has, by degrees, obtained the name of philosopher, and almost monopolized the word to itself, as if it was the chief end or compendium of all the wisdom which philosophy had to offer. And indeed, considering what lights they had, some of them wrote exceedingly well ; yet, as what they said proceeded more from the bead than the heart, 'twas generally more calculated to silence a man in his troubles, than to convince and teach him how to bear them ; and, therefore, however subtle and ingenious their argu

[ocr errors]

ments might appear in the reading, 'tis to be feared they lost much of their efficacy when tried in the application. If a man was thrust back in the world by disappointments, or, as was Job's case, had suffered a sudden change in his fortunes, from an affluent condition was brought down by a train of cruel accidents, and pinched with poverty,--philosophy would come in, and exhort him to stand his ground; -it would tell him, that the same greatness and strength of mind which enabled him to behave well in the days of his prosperity, should equally enable him to behave well in the days of his adversity ;that it was the property of only weak and base spirits, who were insolent in the one, to be dejected and overthrown by the other ; whereas, great and generous souls were at all times calm and equal : as they enjoyed the advantages of life with indifference, they were able to resign them with the same temper,--and, consequently, were out of the reach of fortune. All which, however fine, and likely to satisfy the fancy of a man at ease, could convey but little consolation to a heart already pierced with sorrow ;-„nor is it to be conceived how an unfortunate creature should any more receive relief from such a lecture, however just, than a man racked with an acute fit of the gout or stone, could be supposed to be set free from torture by hearing from his physician a nice dissertation upon his case.

The philosophick consolations in sickness, or in afflictions for the death of friends and kindred, were just as efficacious ;-and were rather, in general, to be considered as good sayings than good remedies ;--so that, if a man was bereaved of a promised child, in whom all his hopes and expectations centered or a wife was left destitute to mourn the loss and protection of a kind and tender husband, Seneca or Epictetus would tell the pensive parent and disconsolate widow,that tears and lamentations for the dead were fruitless and absurd !- that to die was the necessary and unavoidable debt of nature ;-and, as it could admit of no remedy,-'twas impious and foolish to grieve and fret themselves upon it. Upon such sage counsel, as well as many other lessons of the same stamp, the same reflection might be applied, which is said to have been made by one of the Roman emperors to one who administered the same consolations to him on a like occasion ;-to whom, advising him to be comforted, and make himself easy, since the event had been brought about by fatality, and could not be helped,

he replied, That 6 this was so far from lessening his trouble,—that it • was the very circumstance which occasioned it.' -So that, upon the whole, when the true value of these, and many more of their current arguments, have been weighed and brought to the testy-one is led to doubt whether the greatest part of their heroes, the most renowned for constancy, were not much more indebted to good nerves and spirits, or the natural happy frame of their tempers, for behaving well, than to any extraordinary helps which they could be supposed to receive from their instructors : and, therefore, I should make no scru. ple to assert, that one such instance of patience and resignation as this, which the scripture gives us in the person of Job, not of one most pompously declaiming upon the contempt of pain and poverty, but of a man sunk in the lowest condition of humanity, to behold him when stripped of his estate,-his


[ocr errors]

wealth, his friends, his children;-cheerfully holding up his head, and entertaining his hard fortune with firmness and serenity, and this, not from a stoical stupidity, but a just sense of God's providence, and a persuasion of his justice and goodness in all his dealings ;-such an example, I say, as this, is of more universal use, speaks truer to the heart, than all the heroick precepts which the pedantry of philosophy has to offer.

This leads me to the point I aim at in this discourse, namely, that there are no principles but those of religion to be depended on in cases of real distress; and that these are able to encounter the the worst emergencies; and to bear us up under all the changes and chances to which our life is subject.

Consider then what virtue the very first principle of religion has, and how wonderfully it is conducive to this end. That there is a God, a powerful, a wise, a good Being, who first made the world, and continues to govern it ;-by whose goodness all things are designed,and by whose providence all things are conducted, to bring about the greatest and best ends. The sorrowful and pensive wretch that was giving way to his misfortunes, and mournfully sinking under them, the moment this doctrine comes in to his aid, hushes all his complaints, and thus speaks comfort to his soul :- It is the Lord, let ( him do what seemeth him good ;'-without his direction, I know that no evil can befall me-without his permission, that no power can hurt me.-It is impossible a Being so wise should mistake my happiness, or that a Being so good should contradict it. If he has denied me riches or other advart.


tages, perhaps he foresees the gratifying my wishes would undo me, and, by my own abuse of them, be perverted to my ruin.-If he has denied me the request of children, or, in his providence, has thought fit to take them from me,-how can I say -whether he has not dealt kindly with me, and only taken that away which he foresaw would embitter and shorten my days ? It does so to thousands, where the disobedience of a thankless child has brought down the parents gray hairs with sorrow to the grave. Has he visited me with sickness, poverty, or other disappointments can I say, but these are blessings in disguise ?-50 many different expressions of his care and concern to disentangle my thoughts from this world, and fix them upon another another, a better world beyond this ! This thought opens a new scene of hope and consolation to the unfortunate ;-and, as the persuasion of a providence reconciles him to the evils he has suffered, this prospect of a future life gives him strength to despise them, and esteem the light afflictions of his life as they are not worthy to be compared to what is reserved for him hereafter.

Things are great or small by comparison,—and he who looks no farther than this world, and balan: ces the accounts of his joys and sufferings from that consideration, finds all his sorrows enlarged, and, at the close of them, will be apt to look back, and cast the same sad reflection upon the whole which the patriarch did Pharaoh,"That few and evil had « been the days of his pilgrimage." But let him lift up his eyes towards heaven, and steadfastly behold the life and immortality of a future state ;-he then wipes away all tears from off his eyes forever

[ocr errors]
« PředchozíPokračovat »